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All-Star Shootout
Rockdale County falls in inaugural All-Star game
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Julius Giles of Rockdale High School knocks down one of his team-high three 3-pointers during Rockdale County's loss to Newton County in the inaugural All-Star game Thursday at Newton High School. - photo by Anthony Banks
Not many high school basketball games end with players from both sides smiling after the final buzzer. Nevertheless, that was certainly the case Thursday after players from Eastside, Newton and Alcovy came together as one team and defeated a similar contingent from Rockdale County 113-88 in the inaugural Cross County All-Star Festival.

Alcovy's Jordan Butts led all players with 22 points while Shakeem Mitchell from Heritage led Rockdale County with 20. The Rockdale all stars sank 15 3-pointers in the game while Newton County made 13.

Speaking of long range shooting, in addition to the game, the festivities started with a 3-point contest before players from both squads squared off in a slam dunk contest.

Jordan Butts topped Heritage's Austin Murray in the final round to take home the trophy in the 3-point shootout while Salem's Antony Armstrong scored a perfect 40 in the final of the dunk contest to beat Rockdale's Julius Giles and set the stage for the game.

Rockdale County jumped out to an early 12-5 lead before Newton County stormed back with a 19-10 run to lead 24-15 with 12 minutes to go in the half.

Newton's Demetrius McCray scored back-to-back buckets including a thunderous two-handed dunk to start the run before Alcovy's Julian Butts caught fire and scored eight straight points including back-to-back threes to cap the run.
Rockdale County came right back and scored five straight to cut the deficit to four. McCray and Mitchell traded threes before Newton County went on a 9-0 run to stretch its lead to 35-23. Eastside's Neal Latimore capped the run with a three of his own.

Rockdale County came back and closed to within four at 37-34 but Newton County outscored the Rockdale team 17-13 over the final minutes of the first half and led 54-47 at halftime. Julian Butts led all scores at halftime with 13 while Latimore, McCray and Mitchell each had 10 at the break.

The second half went much like the first. Newton County extended its lead to 15 after 2009 Covington News Player of the Year Jamon Hawkins sank a 3-pointer. Newton County led by as many as 27 in the second half.

While coaches from all six schools participated, Newton High's Rick Rasmussen and Rockdale High's Alvin Williams earned the honor of coaching the respective squads based on head-to-head results amongst the schools.

Alcovy head coach Eugene Brown proposed the idea and the other coaches put the festivities together in the span of about three weeks. Despite the quick effort, everyone involved felt like the players and coaches all enjoyed the activities.
"I tell you what, for the amount of time we spent planning it, which was a small amount of time, it turned out great," Rockdale coach Alvin Williams said.

"I think they had fun. A lot of these guys enjoyed playing with each other for the first time. It was fun, man."

Rasmussen, who worked diligently with assistant coach Bill Dolan and athletic director Tracy Curtis to schedule the events at Newton, echoed Williams' sentiment.

"It was fun. I didn't know what to expect. We had three good days of practice and the kids got after it," Rasmussen said. "Our goal was to get our legs back and for the kids who we knew could play and could score, we wanted to get them confident even though they were a little rusty. I thought for the most part, they did a good job of shaking off the rust. Some of them took a little time to get started but overall I thought the guys who could really play came to play."

Newton's team did particularly well taking care of the ball. It turned the ball over nine times while Rockdale County turned it over 17 times.

"It's hard to keep continuity when you sub a lot. We put a few things in, even though it was a short amount of time, that gave them some continuity even if they weren't used to playing with each other. I felt like they saw the floor well and maybe did a better job of playing together than Rockdale County players did."

In the 3-point contest, Newton's Tee Farley sank a contest-high 13 threes in the first round but fell to Murray in the second round while Jordan Butts made 10 to reach the second round and eight in the semifinals to reach the final round.

In the dunk contest, Armstrong scored a cumulative 69 [from four judges' scores] on his two dunks in the opening round while Alcovy's Kevin Boyle scored a 68, Giles a 66 and Mitchell a 65.

Giles and Armstrong reached the finals on the strength of a 38 and 32 for their best dunk. In the final, Giles failed to convert on his dunk while Armstrong threw a pass off the backboard and jammed it home sideways with one hand to bring the crowd to its feet and earn a perfect score.

With the succession so-to-speak of Alcovy and Eastside from Region 8-AAAA this year - each team moved to new regions - the amount of cross-county games was down in 2009. That's something Williams, new to Rockdale this year, said he hopes to change.

"I think our schools should play each other more in the regular season," Williams said. "I know it used to be that way. I'm going to try and get it back to that, but it's just beautiful for our area.

"We are going to make this an annual event and it will be well-planned. It's going to be an awesome event for our children. Next year it will be in my gym."
Each coach expects the festivities to become an annual event. While Williams is confident he will host the game next year, Rasmussen said he's ready to lend a hand in the preparation having hosted it this year.

"Absolutely we'd like to make it an annual event," he said. "Next year it will be at the home of the Rockdale County champion and I'll be happy to help any way I can to organize that and we'll be happy to go over there and have fun again."